Foods impact more than just what we may physically be able to see. It can impact the way we think, feel and how we age. Food continues to play a vital role in the support and maintenance of the body, providing fuel to power the brain and nutrients to help protect it.
BRAIN BASICSThe brain functions by sending signals along the nervous system network. If you can imagine a large network of telephone and Internet wires hooked up across a large city. There are constant signals, messages, and information being sent out and received 24/7. Well-maintained connections are vital for communication and tasks accomplished through it.
How can nutrients impact mental health?
They can in so many different ways! Foods, and most importantly the nutrients that they contain support normal development of the brain and nervous system. Macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) serve as an energy source for the brain, especially carbohydrates. They can influence gene transcription, which is the first step in writing our DNA. They can contribute to mood and our sense of wellbeing. Finally, nutrients can enter or exit from cells in response to thoughts, emotions and stress, so these experiences have the potential to influence how nutrients physically impact our bodies and minds.
WHAT FOODS SHOULD WE EAT FOR A BRAIN BOOST?
Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, mulberries and goji berries. There are options galore when it comes to finding a berry to enjoy. Berries are rich in nutrients with antioxidant effects which can help protect the brain from damage and degradation.
This seems like a no brainer (no pun intended). Eating more whole foods and less processed and refined foods have been shown to have beneficial health outcomes and brain function is no different. A general healthy eating pattern with an emphasis on foods with high amounts of nutrients (nutrient-dense) may improve brain function.
Green, leafy vegetablesKale, spinach, collard greens, broccoli and more. Green and leafy veg provides B vitamins which work to support neuron function (the cells that send messages to parts of the body) among other important roles within the body.
Seaweed and algaeSeaweed, nori, chlorella and spirulina has EPA & DHA, the two acids that are found in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that has been shown to have fantastic effects on brain health and reducing inflammation in the body, which is absolutely key in protecting from chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Nuts and seedsAnother great option for healthy fats, particularly for those who wish to stick to a plant-based lifestyle. Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds and flaxseeds (or flaxseed oil) can be enjoyed by the rounded handful throughout the week to add some omega-3’s and provide a brain boost!
WHAT SHOULD YOU LIMIT?
Like the PUFA sources that are mentioned above, some fats are beneficial for health and disease prevention while others have consistently been associated with a decline in health as well as the development and progression of disease. These unhelpful fats are trans fats and monounsaturated fats.
Foods that contain trans fat include deep-fried fast foods and takeaway, packaged biscuits, cakes, pastries and pies for example. Foods that contain monounsaturated fats include packaged snack foods, pastries, cakes, chips, fried food, take away food, pies, dairy foods (butter, full-fat milk and cheese), meat (fatty cuts, processed meats, skin-on chicken). Food choices associated with the best outcomes for mental health are lower in these types of foods.
Foods that spike blood sugar
Stabilizing blood sugar levels is important for the whole body but also the brain and its health. While the brain’s main fuel source is glucose (sugar which comes from the breakdown of carbohydrate-rich foods), maintaining a steady balance of glucose in the blood is optimal for the body rather than having the extremes of having too much or too little.
Refined and processed carbohydrates such as table sugar, white bread, cookies, pastries, chips, etc. cause blood sugar levels to jump more quickly than their whole-grain, less-processed counterparts. They offer less nourishment nutrition-wise as well. The types of fiber that come in more complex carbohydrate foods (whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) play a role in health through the way they interact with gut bacteria which has been shown to have an impact on numerous things like brain health, stress, anxiety and mood.